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How to Improve Leadership Development and Behavior

How to Improve Leadership Development and Behavior

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By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management, American Public University

If you follow my blog articles, you know that I am skeptical of some of today’s leadership development programs. For example, it’s hard to measure whether there is any real change in behavior once a participant has completed the training.

There may be an awareness of these new leadership development techniques. However, how many leaders actually put into practice what they have learned in a workshop?

Being aware does not mean acceptance. What is the actual buy-in of leaders to the development process? What incentives do we have in place to encourage these leaders to implement the leadership lessons we teach?

Using Two Types of Leadership Development Programs

At the beginning of the year, I thought of a possible solution to some of these questions. I proposed that organizations implement two types of leadership development programs.

One program would be devoted to what we currently know as leadership development training. I suggested that teachers fine-tune the process of developing leaders on a long-term basis. There would be an unspoken understanding that it would take time before group members would be ready to join the leadership ranks.

The second program would be the “fast track” group. Organizations would allow only high performers in this group. Also, the ability to adapt to change and move accordingly when a change occurs should be sought-after characteristics in the leadership selection process.

Today’s leaders need to have an agile mindset. If you do not have individuals who embrace change management initiatives in an organization, your leadership won’t be able to respond to disruptors — such as technology advancements, market changes or workforce changes — when they arise.

These disruptors could potentially affect the efficient operation of the business. It is necessary for these leaders to ensure that organizational directives are met and that the right people are in the right jobs.

Influencing Change in an Organization

However, 2018 has been a unusual year. For example, we saw the rise of the #MeToo movement and the fall of several business and media moguls as a result of sexual harassment charges.

We also witnessed:

  • A tight labor market
  • An up and down stock market
  • Attacks on higher education and questions as to whether or not a formal degree is needed
  • More businesses increasingly leaning toward accepting certifications and micro-credentialing versus formal degrees

As 2018 comes to an end, my thoughts on what is needed in the workplace has changed due to the events that occurred this year.

All of Us Can Be Influencers within Our Organizations

All of us are leaders to a certain extent. Depending on where you are in an organization, your community or your family, you can influence change.

Therefore, the old notion of “leadership development” becomes nothing more than “individual development.” People seek to make changes to become better performers at whatever goals they have established for themselves.

Years ago, a sales representative told me something that is still with me today. She said, “You are only as good as your last sale.”

The new leader is one who commits people to action, who converts followers into leaders, and who may commit leaders into agents of change. — Warren G. Bennis

We cannot afford to stand on our previous successes. They may have gotten us recognition, but they will not keep us out front and ahead of our competition. We should always strive to find the “what’s next?” ideas that will distinguish us and our organizations.

Organizations Cannot Afford to Be Stagnant

Making a move should be the ultimate goal; organizations cannot afford to be stagnant. If they stand still, the competition will destroy them. Technology and innovation act as catalysts to change the way we do business.

Our senior management teams should be visionaries with a clear sense of where we should be going. When the business environment shifts, an organization should have effective change agents in place to steer the company in a new direction and pass down plans to other employees.

We have three distinct groups with specific functions within an organization. These groups ensure that the organization remains efficient and effective:

  • Visionaries: They see the big picture and have the patience to be persistent in the midst of turbulent times.
  • Change Agents: They implement the big picture by motivating the employees in the ranks. They ask the tough questions to ensure that the visionaries and followers stay on the same page.
  • Followers: They make things happen because they can look at the “differences.”  They have a finger on the pulse on what works and what doesn’t. Followers tend to have first-hand knowledge of why specific actions failed and what could be done to turn failure into success.

Having the three-prong approach allows everyone to stay in their own lane as they are given a specific directive to focus.  You have a group charting the course as they look at the big picture, and another group motivating empowered employees to implement the vision.

Times are changing, and companies are exploring what works in the modern world of business today.

Just as there have been articles on the notion that the traditional five-day workweek is a thing of the past, the concept of a one-person leadership is also outdated. Many companies have moved to leadership teams and promote collaboration. If we can get past the notion of one person leading, we can transition our leadership development efforts to individuals on the team.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and influential leader, manifesting people skills, a systematic approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.



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